Exclusive:Dramatic cut in ScotRail Sunday trains triggered by drivers' pay dispute

Bigger reduction planned than on weekdays

ScotRail is planning to cut the number of trains it runs on Sundays by as much as half because of a shortage of drivers volunteering for overtime as part of a pay dispute, The Scotsman has learned.

The news comes a day after the Scottish Government-owned train operator introduced a temporary weekday timetable that has seen more than a quarter of its services halted.

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ScotRail has historically relied most heavily on volunteers on Sundays.

Peak hour trains on the main Edinburgh-Glasgow line have been reduced to half hourly because of the ScotRail pay dispute. (Photo by Lisa Ferguson/The Scotsman)Peak hour trains on the main Edinburgh-Glasgow line have been reduced to half hourly because of the ScotRail pay dispute. (Photo by Lisa Ferguson/The Scotsman)
Peak hour trains on the main Edinburgh-Glasgow line have been reduced to half hourly because of the ScotRail pay dispute. (Photo by Lisa Ferguson/The Scotsman) | Lisa Ferguson

The unofficial but legitimate action by some of ScotRail’s 1,300 drivers comes ahead of its union Aslef due to decide next week whether to hold a strike ballot.

In addition, the RMT, ScotRail’s largest union, whose thousands of members include train crew and station staff, said its national executive committee was considering a similar move.

It could also order a separate ballot over pay at Caledonian Sleeper, which is also owned by the Scottish Government.

The RMT represents the majority of the overnight Scotland-London operator’s 300 staff.

The unions have rejected a 9 per cent increase that has been offered by ScotRail in six stages over three years.

This comprised a 2 per cent increase in April this year, next year and 2026, and a further 1 per cent in January 2025, 2026 and 2027. ScotRail said it would not run up to 550 trains from this Sunday. It cut 600 trains from the weekday timetable from Wednesday to provide “greater certainty” to passengers after days of many short-notice cancellations.

Despite this, around 30 further services were cancelled or truncated on Wednesday and more than 20 on Thursday.

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ScotRail said: “There will be some challenges until the temporary timetable settles.” A spokesperson told The Scotsman: "We are planning to operate around 50-60 per cent of services on Sundays, but this varies from week to week with special events and planned Network Rail engineering work.

"The normal timetable has around 1,100 services operating on a Sunday."

ScotRail said it was working on plans for major events such as The Open golf tournament at Royal Troon, which ends on Sunday July 21.

The event is expected to attract 250,000 spectators - the South Ayrshire course’s biggest Open crowd.

Meantime, up to 50,000 fans a day are expected to attend the TRNSMT music festival on Glasgow Green from Friday to Sunday, which culminates in a headline set from Calvin Harris that is not scheduled to end until about 11pm.

Scottish Conservatives transport spokesperson Graham Simpson said: “Given the issues at the heart of the ongoing dispute with drivers, it is somewhat inevitable that Sunday services are set to bear the brunt of an even bigger reduction in services.

“That will undoubtedly have a significant impact on those looking to travel to major upcoming events across the country as well as those looking to visit family and friends.

“SNP ministers cannot pass the buck to ScotRail and simply wish that this dispute will resolve itself.

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 “They are responsible for the running of Scotland’s railways and must ensure that these issues are resolved to give passengers confidence that a reliable service will be available throughout the week.”

Scottish Labour transport spokesperson Alex Rowley said “ScotRail passengers deserve better than chaos and cancellations.

“These swingeing cuts to Sunday services will leave many Scots cut off and force people back into their cars.

“Responsibility for fixing this mess lies with the SNP. The government must end this disruption by getting ScotRail round the table to deliver a fair deal for drivers.”

Aslef Scottish organiser Kevin Lindsay said: “The decision by ScotRail to half the service on Sunday is not surprising but is still unacceptable and unfair on passengers.

“If they are only running 50 per cent of the service then they should give the passengers a 50 per cent reduction in their fares.

“ScotRail under various owners have failed to address the fact they only employ enough staff for a six-day railway but attempt to run it by volunteers and compulsory overtime.

“We have had many guarantees that this issue will be addressed but sadly there has no been progress.

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“If the Scottish Government want Scotrail staff to volunteer to work their days off then they must address the pay dispute and instruct ScotRail to get back around the negotiating table.”

The disruption derives from ScotRail - along with some other train operators - continuing to rely on drivers volunteering for overtime and working on days off to enable all its services to run.

The firm has said it will take until the end of 2027 to recruit and train enough drivers to dispense with the need for volunteers to cover shifts.

It has struggled to increase numbers because of the number of older staff retiring, drivers moving to other train operators that pay more and restrictions during the Covid pandemic that hampered training.

Caledonian Sleeper managing director Kathryn Darbandi said: “We remain committed to continuing our productive talks with the RMT.

“We are keen to avoid industrial action and hope we can resolve this matter for our team without compromising the reliability of our service.”

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